There was a timid knock on George’s door.
“Come in, Reynolds,” Coach George called out, not even glancing up from his work.
Vince stepped in slowly, working his way forward and standing in front of the desk.
“How did you know it was me?”
“Because my superiors and colleagues don’t knock, and you’re the only frequent student visitor who hits the door like he’s scared it will hit back.”
“Oh. Sorry, I guess,” Vince said.
“Don’t worry about it, kid. On my list of stuff to watch out for, someone who knocks softly isn’t exactly on top. So, what can I do for you?”
“I wanted to schedule some one-on-one time to work on my electricity techniques.”
Coach George let out a sigh. “I was afraid you were going to say that. Take a seat, Reynolds.”
Vince complied and plopped down in the available chair.
“We’ve been at this for months now, and what we’ve discovered is that at a distance of more than a few inches, your electricity arcs wild every time. When it does it’s impossible to determine which direction it’s going. Hell, half the time it doesn’t even include the initial target in the spray of places it strikes,” Coach George pointed out.
“Yes, sir,” Vince agreed. “That why I’m here to schedule time. So I can get better.”
“And I applaud that kind of spirit, that a problem is only a problem until you work through it. That said, you’ve got three weeks until we put you through one of the hardest tests of your life. You’re going to need to be in peak form. So do you think there might be a better way to spend your time?”
“I’m confused; are you telling me to give up on using electricity?”
“Absolutely not,” Coach George said emphatically. “I’ve known Supers who would kill for the level of versatility your power gives you. What I’m saying is that sometimes it’s all about time management. You have two weeks of allowed training time. Now, what do you think will pay off more for your test: struggling to invent a way to utilize electricity, or polishing up and refining what you can do with fire?”
“I guess that would depend on if I succeeded with the electricity or not,” Vince said honestly.
“Not really,” Coach George disagreed. “It’s two weeks, not two months. Even if you do neglect other parts of your training and manage to find a way to control the bolts, you’re not going to have time to master it. The best-case scenario is you walk out there with an unrefined technique that may or may not play out well, as opposed to being fresh and ready with an element you know how to use.”
“I suppose there’s logic in that,” Vince admitted. “I still want to learn better electrical control, though.”
“I’m one hundred percent behind you on that, kid. All I’m saying is pick your timing. Playing with new stuff is for down time. This is crunch time. Crunch time is for focusing on what you’ve got.”
“Yes, sir, I think I’ll do that,” Vince agreed. He stood from the chair. “Thank you for your time, and for the advice.”
“That’s why they pay me the big bucks,” Coach George said. “And for what it’s worth, kid, I hope to see you back here next year.”
“Thank you,” Vince said, stepping out of the office. He wasn’t certain, but he was pretty sure he’d just experienced the closest thing to a compliment Coach George was capable of imparting.
* * *
A manila envelope fell out of Michael Clark’s locker as he pulled the door open. He had just finished doing some extra Friday training before the ban went into effect and was going to grab his clothes to change back. This envelope was a new addition to his items, one he hadn’t added. Michael reached down and scooped up the envelope, cursorily noting it seemed to be moderately thick with contents.
He glanced around, almost more out of obligation than expectation. If someone slipped an envelope into his locker like this, it was highly unlikely they were going to stick around to be seen. He’d been training for three hours, so that left an enormous window of time for anyone to come in here and squeeze in it through an opening in the door. No, the only viable clue to the envelope’s origins was the envelope itself.
Michael carefully undid the metal clasp and pulled out the first few pages. Some were newspapers clippings, some were police reports, some were just random photographs. There didn’t seem to be any theme throughout them; not one that Michael could discern, anyway.
Michael was about to toss the mystery back into his locker when something in one of the photographs caught his eye. Michael’s breath froze in his throat, an electrical burst of wonder jolting through his system. He looked through the documents again, this time with a better sense of what to check for. He scoured them for five solid minutes before he realized he was still standing in the gym locker room. The cold air and blazing excitement swirled in contrast as he sprang into action. Hurriedly he threw his street clothes on, tucked the envelope carefully into his gym bag, and made a bolt for the lifts that would take him to his dorm.
As soon as he arrived, Michael locked the door tight. His eyes danced briefly to a bottle of scotch in the corner. Michael brushed the thought away immediately. He could, and would, drink later to celebrate.
Right now he had work to do.